Another workwear column for the illustrious indutrialists over at Director-e.
The men in white coats; it’s a phrase that will strike either terror, hunger or curiosity in to your hearts, depending on your background.
Curiosity if, like Dr Brian Cox standing astride the large Hadron Collider, juggling test tubes and emitting diodes, you are of a scientific bent. For nothing says ‘knows what to do with an electromagnet and some copper sulphate solution’ than a white coat. It’s like Stephen Hawkins’ glasses, or Einstein’s hair.
Hunger, on the other hand, is a Pavlovian response to the mere sight of a puffy little hat and a white coat. Twin these with some black chessboard pattern trousers and the saliva is likely to flow like Victoria Falls. That is because a culinary white costume lets you know that you’re in for what we in the trade call ‘a meal’. And that is a truly splendid thing indeed.
Terror will be felt if, like me, you’ve ever had the misfortune of being poked in the arm with a really huge needle by a cackling, wild-eyed doctor. Well, in retrospect perhaps the needle wasn’t really all that huge. And Dr McPherson was actually quite sane-eyed. But, that’s beside the point; white coats were long ago deemed to have intimidating of scary associations and were therefore phased out of hospitals and surgeries. As Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor at the Independent recently wrote, ‘Once as distinctive of the medical profession as the stethoscope, the [white coat] disappeared from hospitals 20 years ago as doctors climbed down from their pedestals and sought a more informal relationship with their patients.’ Paediatricians led the way in shrugging off the traditional white garb in favour of more approachable attire, and like lost shoppers on Savile Row, the others all followed suit.
However, if the York Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Guys and St Thomas’ Hopitals and West Middlesex Hospitals are to be believed, then this most iconic piece of doctorly deportment is getting back in the game. These hospitals have made the white coat mandatory for junior doctors and medical students, as well as senior staff. This will help delineate staff both to patients, and to each other. As Laurance reports, before the re-introduction of uniforms, ‘doctors became invisible on the wards and patients now complain they cannot tell a surgeon from a secretary.’
There have been adaptations to the garment; white coats are now often cropped above the elbow in order to adhere to the ‘bare below the elbows’ hygiene precaution, and pockets have become larger (presumably to hold the twenty tonnes of paperwork that accompanies every NHS action).
But, our notes seem to indicate that when it comes to medicine, white is back in sight.